But there's a difficult answer too, and it's probably what most people who ask the question are digging for. How do you find the ideas that you're excited about? That you must write? Before I share my answer, I have a funny story. My friend and writer's group-mate Walter Jon Williams used to wake up in the middle of the night having dreamt the most amazing dream ever, but he'd invariably drift off to sleep again and by morning he couldn't remember it. The feeling that he'd had this incredible idea that just set his creativity on fire was all that was left. So, he put a pen and paper on his nightstand and one night, woke up with one of his world shattering ideas and managed to remember the pen and paper. He jotted down his dream, fell back to sleep, and in the morning woke up excited. He grabbed the piece of paper and looked at what he'd written and it was, (not making this up, you can ask Walter):
UFOs are actually made out of bread.
The point of that story, aside from making you laugh, is that even a writer as experienced and accomplished as Walter, with his many awards and decades long career, will go out of his way to get the idea. He's surely got enough story ideas to fill several careers, given he's practiced coming up with them for most of his life. Yet there are ideas and ideas. The former can make perfectly good, even great stories. The latter won't leave you alone until you pour out your soul onto the page - which sometimes results in a great story, but without enough training in how to write will result in a mediocre, incomprehensible mess. Hence one purpose of practicing your writing skills is to be primed and ready to make those rare ideas shine.
Mine sneak in through the back door. I lay bait for them by thinking of something that I want. A certain feeling that a book gave me, for example, and then I ruminate about it and get frustrated and write a bunch of random scenes and make up characters that don't really click for me, and then, after several days to a few weeks, one of those ideas usually comes together, and it often has nothing to do with what I was originally looking for. Most of my sales, though, come from these ideas, and this in part explains why I didn't start selling stories until relatively recently, even though I graduated from Clarion West a decade ago. I used to work hard on ideas, honing my craft and execution and I got a lot of positive feedback and rejection letters that told me I was close. It was when I started laying bait for ideas that the sales started. I used to provide my most polished, overworked piece to my writer's group in New Mexico. More recently, I dashed off a rough draft of a story with an idea for my writers group, heard them chew it over and worry it to shreds, and came away with an idea, which might or might not have anything to do with what they'd said.
So the question I ask is, how to you find your ideas, as opposed to the regular run of the mill ideas that you've got a million of?